Setting Up An Online Learning Experience

What is the significance of knowing the technology available to you? From my professional experience of 17 years teaching face-to-face classes for various computer applications including Microsoft’s Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Word; I have learned the value of knowing the technology for which I am teaching. As an instructor, it is my responsibility to be the subject matter expert of the application which the students are expected to learn and use within my organization. If I am not confident in using the application, my students generally are able to discern that insecurity, simply by watching my non-verbal body language and listening to the insecurity in my tone of voice. My insecurity may result in a loss of motivation and commitment on behalf of the students. As an instructor, this is not a good situation for the students and their need to learn how to use the application; likewise it is not good for the credibility of the instructor.

To boost my knowledge and skills of the technology applications I teach, I always build sufficient preparation time into my schedule. In addition, in my early years of instructing computer applications, I started out teaching beginner level courses; progressing to teaching intermediate and advanced skill levels as my own skills advanced to the same levels. I am a firm believer when it comes to technology, to teach it, you have got to use it.

My professional experiences align well with Boettcher and Conrad (2010) in their recommendation for online instructors to begin by focusing on essential technology tools then progressing to more advanced tools as they gain experience and confidence with teaching in an online environment. At a minimum, the online instructor needs to be proficient with using these essential tools within the institution’s course management system (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010):

  • Uploading text, PDF, and other documents
  • Creating and using online discussion forums
  • Using the grade book
  • Creating and sending announcements

In today’s world of technology skills, I believe it is also essential for new online instructors to have knowledge and skills for creating and using blogs. Additionally, it is also wise for the online instructor to be aware of the general differences in technology experiences from one generation of learners to another. Learners from the millennial generation, born between 1982 and 2005, have grown up with technology and in general are very experienced with using computers, the internet, social networking sites, and multitasking (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).

On the other hand, learners from the silent generation, baby boomer generation, and generation X may be less tech-savy because they have not grown up using technology all their lives (Simonson et al., 2012). Therefore, online instructors need to include activities which help to identify generational learners. To accommodate older learners with potentially less skills for using technology, instructors should include additional technology support resources. This is especially important if it is the learner’s first online course, or as Boettcher and Conrad (2010) recommend, it encourages learners to contact technology support staff instead of contacting the instructor for technology issues.

Why is it essential to communicate clear expectations to learners? Creating a smooth and trusting online environment includes providing clear expectations to learners (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). Learners need to know what is expected of them and what is expected from the instructor. Communicating expectations should include the following: Instructor availability and response time for returning phone calls and emails; guidelines for submitting assignments, discussions, and projects; when to log into the online course for the first time and how often to log in each week, approximate time commitments to complete course requirements; length of posts and assignments; grading policies and practices for late submissions (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). In addition, expectations should be communicated in multiple ways including through the course syllabus, instructor announcements, and instructions for individual assignments and projects (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

What additional considerations should the instructor take into account when setting up an online learning experience? Boettcher and Conrad (2010), offer a wealth of information for setting up an online learning experience. From reading chapters four and five of their text, these considerations seem to fall into a few major categories for online instructors.

  1. Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Do it often and do it in a variety of ways to connect with your learners.
  2. Prepare in advance. Consider creating a test site to practice before your first online course.
  3. Build Learner to Content, Learner to Learner, and Learner to Faculty activities into the online course.
  4. Promote social, cognitive, and teaching presence among learners and faculty by using essential technology tools within the institution’s course management system.
  5. Get to know your students’ minds individually as in Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development to determine what is in their minds now and what they think they know (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 79).
  6. Use discussion boards to their fullest capabilities, remembering asynchronous discussion boards offer the greatest impact for building learner to learner relationships in online courses.

What did you learn that would help you implement effective online instruction in the future? From this week’s resources, I learned how important it is to start off on the right foot as an online instructor including how to build course themes; incorporate presence and community into the online course; and ensure expectations are clear and understandable. In addition, I learned which technology tools are considered essential and which ones can be added later as the instructor gains experience. I also learned a huge amount of useful information in the Ten Tips for Course Beginnings (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). The knowledge I gained from this week’s course readings and assignment have prepared me well for implementing my first online course as an online instructor.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Penny,

    I love that you extended the conversation beyond the impact of technology to the impact of the instructor’s relationship with technology. I agree that students can discern instructor insecurity and it can weaken group motivation and energy.

    I remember the first class I taught as an aerobics instructor, many years ago. After the introductions I walked over to the CD player, and I froze. I stood there staring down at it, terrified of pushing the button. I knew that once the music started I would be “on,” and the class would rightfully expect me to lead them, to be the expert, to know what I was doing; and in that moment, I was afraid I didn’t! I finally pushed the button and as the music filled the room I decided to ignore all of the fancy choreography I had spent weeks preparing and opt instead for simple footwork that I knew I could lead and cue well.

    As you cited Boettcher and Conrad (2010), instructors do well to focus first on essential technology (or choreography) and progress to more advanced offerings as they are able to do well.



    • Posted by Penelope Baker on July 22, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks for posting a comment to my blog. Did you ever hear or read of the term KISS
      (Keep it simple, stupid)? We have the US Navy to thank for that one. As you determined from your days of teaching aerobics and I from my days teaching technology applications, it makes sense to start out simple.



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